Lois Lilienstein leaves vivacious legacy

Whenever visitors dropped in at the Summerhill home of children’s entertainer Lois Lilienstein they could always expect a warm meal and something extra sweet.

The 78-year-old was a bona fide foodie.

It’s this fond memory that her Sharon, Lois and Bram troupe mates, Sharon Hampson and Bram Morrison, shared days after the April 22 death of their friend from a rare form of cancer. She was laid to rest alongside her husband, Ernest, at Mount Pleasant Cemetery three days later.

Hampson, friends with Lilienstein since they met through a mutual acquaintance in the 1970s, recalled a moment just days before her death that also featured food.

“She must have been thinking about the funeral date, and though we didn’t have that kind of conversation she said, ‘I want you to take care of the food. And I want Jewish food,” Hampson said. “She wanted to make sure it was done in a traditional way and there would be good food, and she knew she could trust me to take care of that.”

Lilienstein was first diagnosed with cancer in October. After surgery and chemotherapy, there wasn’t much else that could be done, Morrison noted. The cancer metastasized from the reproductive organs to the rest of her body, and led to a sharp decline in the last two weeks of her life.

As a tribute to her love of food, Lilienstein’s famous brownies recipe — Lois’ Brownies — was shared among those who attended her private funeral.

“She liked cooking main courses, and she loved cooking (and eating) desserts,” Morrison recalled. “She had a sweet tooth.”

The trio met through Mariposa in the Schools, a music program set up through the various Toronto school boards during the 1970s. Until she met Hampson, Lilienstein was teaching 45-minute classes through the Toronto Public Library.

Lilienstein was classically trained in music at the University of Michigan, and came to midtown Toronto in 1966 with Ernest and 2-year-old son David.

Her knowledge of Bach and Beethoven, as well as her love of Broadway show tunes, filled in a void with Sharon and Bram.

“That’s the part that she brought in to us, that was new to us,” Morrison said. “That jazzy pizzazz element was the unique thing that she brought to the mix, and I think that was a crucial part of creating the Sharon, Lois and Bram sound.”

Their music, especially the song Skinnamarink, left a lasting legacy across Canada and abroad.

“We all knew people grew up on our music, and they’re adults now, and we’re hoping they sing it to their children and that the music will carry on,” Hampson said. “It’s not just the music, but the notion of taking music into your life — it’s part of the way you live, enjoying music.”

Last May the city named the playground at June Rowlands Park, on the corner of Davisville Avenue and Mount Pleasant, in the trio’s honour.

Ward 22 councillor Josh Matlow, whose motion at city hall got the ball rolling for the playground naming, called Lilienstein “a special woman” and said he looks forward to “celebrating Lois in more ways to come.”

“I feel deeply for her family, who are mourning the loss of such a special woman, and as we mourn, I also look forward to celebrating Lois in more ways to come,” he said. “Lois dedicated her career to sharing music and happiness with kids around the world, and as one of those kids, I will forever be grateful.”